I do some volunteer work for a nonprofit that had hired someone to build a new website. The site is off to a good start but it isn’t finished. The nonprofit wanted to blame the developer for the prolonged timeline, but it wasn’t his fault at all.
It wasn’t that the nonprofit had the wrong person for the job; the problem was that the staff did not know how to work with a Web developer, and I suspect many small-business owners and even real estate professionals suffer from the same affliction.
Not getting what we want from a Web developer or company is a common complaint.
Hiring someone to build a website isn’t like hiring someone to put on a roof. When you hire a roofing contractor you will have to make some decisions about what type of roofing material is to be used, but after that the contractor should be able to do the rest.
When working with a Web developer, many decisions have to be made along the way. But my friends at the nonprofit expected the Web developer to make decisions that were way beyond the scope of his job — decisions about content and how it should be organized and what to put where.
It would be nice if we could just hire someone to take care of everything, but it isn’t that simple.
The last time I hired someone to work on one of my sites I was too busy to pay attention, and I ended up having to redo some of the design work myself. It really was my own fault — not the fault of the company I hired.
I should have known better. I was a project manager in a past career and have managed many software development projects.
Here are some tips for working with a Web developer:
1. Communication is critical. Hire someone who communicates well, and set up a system and schedule for regular communication.
2. Try to find someone who speaks the same language. A developer who has experience building real estate websites may have a better understanding of what an agent is talking about.
3. Have a written scope of work that outlines what you want done. What will the site look like? How many pages will it have? What are the key features?
4. Create a list of functions. For example, the nonprofit wanted social media integration, a place to display YouTube videos, photo slideshows of happy clients, a calendar of events, and contact forms.
5. Find examples of websites that you like. Borrow ideas from them and think about the look and feel and what it communicates.
6. Ask the developer how long the work will take and have mutually agreed upon deadlines. In most cases the developer isn’t going to be able to figure out what is needed but should know when to ask questions and what to ask.
There is no such thing as too much communication. The better the communication and instructions, the better the end result will be.
The first step is to have a solid vision and a clear understanding of which part of the project the developer will be responsible for. Generally a developer is not going to provide content or make business decisions.
It is also important to have a budget and communicate that budget to the developer, but it isn’t alright to say I only have X amount of money and expect the developer to work for less to get the site done. Deadlines are good for both parties.
Be prepared to spend time on the project and be available to answer questions. In most cases you can’t just hire someone and walk away.
It isn’t always the Web developer’s fault when it doesn’t work out, but sometimes it is. Get references before hiring anyone to work on a website. Be prepared before hiring anyone.
Have a scope of work: a simple list should suffice. Be prepared to communicate and to make decisions and get involved.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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